Most Middle Eastern countries have some sort of date cookie on holidays such as Eid, Christmas and Easter. I am always so impressed by the many variations of dates and dough we’ve managed to come up with, each with its own distinct flavour, texture and shape. I am always on the hunt for new date cookies to add to my Eid table and I’ve been eyeing up Libya’s famous magrood for years. I was always intimidated by them and wanted to do them justice, but after admiring them from afar, I finally mustered the courage to try them out and I am so happy I did! They are absolutely delicious.
Magrood or magroot, which means cut into pieces, is made across North Africa. Most countries fry theirs, but what sets the Libyan version apart is that it is baked. Although the various date cookies may look alike, I promise you they are each unique in their flavour and texture. Unlike ma’amoul, these are soaked in syrup and usually consumed a few days after being made. This gives the semolina a chance to properly absorb the syrup and they are no longer sticky and do not ooze when eaten. This will require a lot of patience, but there is no law against sneaking a couple in before they are at their peak deliciousness.
It is important to use the correct semolina when making these cookies. It needs to be a medium-sized grain, not too fine like flour and not too coarse. The amount used depends on the brand, so make sure you add it in gradually until you get a dough you can mould, almost like playdough. Once you have your dates rolled in a log and your dough mixed, you are ready to make your cookies. Just make sure the dates are completely covered by the dough so that they don’t burn and become hard. Firmly mould the dough around the dates and then cut into your desired size. I use special decorating tongs to decorate the cookies, which are available online or in your local Middle Eastern shop, but a fork could also work. Bake on a medium heat, not too hot like ma’amoul. These take longer than regular cookies, about 25 minutes. They are ready when browned. If the bottom is brown and the top isn’t, just pop them under the broiler for a minute or two.
For the syrup, it needs to be thick and cold so that the cookie absorbs it properly. Some people use pure honey while others use a syrup mixed with honey. This is up to personal taste, but I like a touch of honey, as I find it pairs well with the fragrant orange blossom water. Once the cookies are out of the oven, drizzle with syrup while they are hot and place them in an airtight container overnight. Unlike other cookies, these taste best on day two or three. Give these beauties a try and add another Eid cookie to your collection.
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1.5 tbsp honey
Squeeze of lemon
500 g date paste
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp ghee or oil (more or less depending on how soft your date paste is)
2-2 ½ cups semolina (medium grain)
1 cup flour
¼ cup orange blossom water
¾ cup water
½ cup ghee (room temperature)
½ cup oil
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
- To make the syrup, heat the sugar, honey and water together in a pot. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and leave to simmer on low heat for 7-10 minutes or until it starts to thicken. Add the lemon juice, let simmer for another minute and remove from heat. Leave to cool. It is best to make this the day before.
- To make the filling, mix together all of the ingredients, making sure the cinnamon and sesame seeds are evenly distributed throughout the date paste. Roll into medium logs and set aside on a greased surface or silicon mat.
- To make the dough, mix together the ghee and oil, then add the water and orange blossom water, followed by the flour and baking soda. Mix well.
- Gradually mix in the semolina. The amount of semolina used depends on the brand, as some absorb more liquid than others. Add gradually until you get a dough that you can mould, similar to the texture of playdough. Mix gently, you do not want to knead this dough, as it will be tough after baking.
- To form your cookies, take a piece of dough and flatten it into a rectangular shape. Add one date log and roll the dough over the date log, making sure it is completely covered. Trim any excess dough and add back to the rest. Squeeze firmly to make sure the dough and dates are secure, then cut into medium-sized pieces. Use a special decorating tool to make a pattern on top of each piece. A fork could also work. Place on a parchment lined baking tray.
- Once you are ready to bake, bake at 180 C or 170 C for fan assisted ovens for about 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. If it is golden on the bottom, place under the broiler to brown the tops.
- Once it is out of the oven, place it in the syrup for about a minute or two or drizzle a generous amount of syrup on each cookie and leave to cool. It is best to eat this the next day, as the syrup will be completely absorbed and delicious. Enjoy!
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